The 100th anniversary race of the very first Indianapolis 500 was set this afternoon. There was drama and rain, which has been the theme all week long.
Qualifying began at the scheduled noon time this afternoon, but dark clouds filled the south end of the speedway, where the cars were exiting pit lane. Ana Beatriz went first, and Graham Rahal followed her as the rain began to fall. Rahal said he had rain drops on his visor on his last lap, but he was able to finish his run and get himself into the field.
Rain made its second wave through the speedway later, and Danica Patrick looked as though she would miss the race because of it. They were able to dry the track yet again, but the news still wasn't good for Andretti Autosport.
Marco Andretti got bumped by Alex Lloyd with just under one minute remaining in qualifying. Marco had one last shot to get back into the race, and he did it with an impressive run. Unfortunately, the result was him bumping his teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay out of the race. The Andretti cars of Hunter-Reay and Mike Conway did not qualify for the race. Oddly enough, these were the two drivers that had the spectacular crash in last year's race. Conway is currently fourth in the points standings.
Dragon Racing is officially done after another accident earlier this morning. Patrick Carpentier was flown in to shake down Scott Speed's car to see if he could improve it. Unfortunately, for he and everyone involved, he spun and backed it into the wall. With Ho-Pin Tung's crash yesterday, Dragon is left without a car for the 500. They tried to work out a deal with Fisher's team and a couple of others, but nothing worked out.
Both Pole Day and Bump Day provided a lot of exciting action, drama, and of course, rain. Seven drivers failed to make the race, and the field is set for next Sunday's race, the greatest race in the world.
Alex Tagliani has been on fire every day this May at Indianapolis. From the time they unloaded, until his final run on Saturday, he has been one of the fastest cars at the top of the speed chart. Tagliani was my dark horse to win when the first day of practice began last Saturday. Now, the cat is out of the bag, and Tags is starting the biggest race of his life on the pole.
Everyone was talking about Dario's situation in qualifying when he ran out of fuel. What some people don't realize is that Dixon had the same problem, but he had just a little more left in the tank. Dixon began sputtering as he entered the final turn on his last lap. Had he continued at his pace, he most likely would have had the pole. Either way, I consider Dixon to be the favorite for the race, as he has been lightning quick all month long.
Servia put on quite an impressive performance to most people during his qualifying run on Saturday. I expected him to be fast, not exactly front row fast, but that he should easily make it into the Fast Nine. He has been impressive all month, as he and teammate James Hinchcliffe seem to have found something here at Indy on the first day of practice. Servia should be familiar with third position, because that is where he is in the points standings as well.
It wasn't until Friday's practice session that I really began to take notice of Bell. Earlier in the week, he hadn't done much, but something clicked towards the end of the week for this team. His teammate Tagliani is on pole, but I think Bell is much more of a surprise on the inside of row two than Tagliani is on the inside of row one. Sam Schmidt Motorsports has had an amazing month so far, and if both drivers can stay up in the top five next Sunday, it could be a dream come true for this team.
Power had won every pole for all four races this season, but he will not make it five here at Indy. He was thought to be one of the challengers for the pole position when he took the track on Saturday, but his speeds just weren't matching what he put up in practice. The points leader will be in the middle of row two, and I expect him to stay up front for most of the day.
The 2005 Indy 500 winner is driving for Bryan Herta this year. Herta and Wheldon were once teammates, and Dan was told that he would be given a car capable of winning the race, so Wheldon chose this ride among many others that were offered. Wheldon has one of the most impressive track records here at Indianapolis, and I would expect another top 10 out of him this year, maybe even a top five.
Another former 500 winner finds himself starting up front next Sunday, Rice has a great ride with Panther Racing, who has performed as well as anyone here at Indianapolis. He has been solid in almost every practice session this month, and he certainly knows his way around the track.
Carpenter has had a strong car all month here at the speedway. Obviously a fan favorite driving for SFR, he has put up some impressive numbers throughout the week. He ran extremely well in qualifying, but had a little hiccup in the Fast Nine. The team is only going to field one car, so all of the focus will go into giving Carpenter the best chance at winning the race. I would not be surprised to see Carpenter grab a top five here next Sunday.
Running out of fuel on a qualifying attempt while going for the pole at Indianapolis is unacceptable for any team, especially one as polished as Target/Chip Ganassi. While it was a bitter disappointing end to the Fast Nine for this team, make no mistake; they will be up front at some point in the race and will probably be there in the end as well. I am fairly confident that the defending champion will recover from Saturday's hiccup. Unfortunately, only one driver has ever won the Indy 500 when starting in ninth position.
Sato has had a great season coming into the 500. Many drivers have said that he is the bravest driver out there week in and week out. While last year was one he would like to forget, he has certainly been doing well this year. Of the three KV Racing Technology cars, Sato was the fastest, which is really saying something when you outrun Tony Kanaan.
Vitor Meira is once again quietly in the top one third of the field. There hasn't been much buzz about him around the garage area this month, which is just fine with him. Meira may be just sitting in the weeds waiting for Sunday to get here. He has posted some very good laps in practice, and his qualifying laps were solid as well. This is a sneaky pick here, a perfect dark horse pick.
There were high expectations for rookie JR Hildebrand coming into this season. Not only was he one of the best drivers in the Indy Lights Series, but he is with Panther Racing, which has finished runner up in the 500 the past three straight years. The car is fast, the driver is confident, but starting on the outside could be cause for concern for the team. It is going to be difficult just trying to maneuver down into traffic going into turn one.
Fellow rookie James Hinchcliffe will also be interesting to watch in his first Indy 500 race. Much like Hildebrand, he has shown talent and promise in the Indy Lights Series, and he has performed very well in his first three races. James is also with a very good team (Newman Haas), which landed teammate Oriol Servia a spot on the front row. The kid has a great sense of humor and a true passion for planking (evidence is on his nose). Don't tell him that 13 is unlucky.
Baguette has flown under the radar all month long. While his lap speeds haven't been high every day of practice, the team has worked hard to get speed out of this machine. They got him what he needed, and he was able to put it in the show on the first day. While I don't think many people will give him a chance at winning this race, it could be a valuable learning experience for the young driver.
While the two drivers on the inside of Hamilton don't have any experience in this race, Hamilton has plenty to go around. This will be the 11th race for Hamilton, who is driving the No. 11 machine. Last year ended way too early for Hamilton, in an incident coming out of turn two just after the race was under way. This year, Hamilton looks to turn his luck around and finish up front.
One of the biggest surprises on Pole Day was the absence of three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves. Helio always makes a run at the pole here in Indianapolis, but this has been a different year for the Brazilian. Helio has struggled and had his moments in every race this season. While it has been one to forget so far, winning his fourth 500 and joining the elite company of Foyt, Unser and Mears would probably make all of that disappear. Doing so would require him to win the race from the 16th starting position, which has only been done one time since the inaugural race in 1911.
With about a minute left in qualifying, it looked like the only Andretti driver in the field would be Michael's cousin, John. He was the only one of the five Andretti Autosport cars to qualify on Pole Day. Two of them (Danica and Marco) slipped in in the final hour of Bump Day. The other two (Hunter-Reay and Conway) are going to have to watch the race. John was able to find the speed out on the track when all of the other Andretti cars were struggling. It would really be something special if John were able to pull off a victory here after so many tries.
EJ Viso has looked very relaxed and comfortable since arriving here last weekend. I don't think he will have the same level of calmness next Sunday, but it was a decent qualifying effort for this team. He is going to be on the outside when the race begins, so it will be interesting to see if he can keep from hitting anything on the first lap.
Bruno is a veteran that knows how to get around this track with his eyes closed. That may be an exaggeration, but he does have the experience of racing here, having won the pole for the 2002 race. It was just announced that Fuzzy's Vodka will be sponsoring his car in the race next week. He has turned some heads in the past few days and has AJ Foyt looking good with both of his cars for the race.
Justin Wilson hasn't really got much attention this year, but he has been running well in most of the practice sessions. He had a decent qualifying effort, although he thinks they could have done much better. Many drivers would say that, but Justin really believes this team is capable of starting up front and contending for the win. I must say I like that confidence, but I don't necessarily agree with his assessment of the team.
In a bit of a surprise, Jay Howard had a solid qualifying run on Pole Day and put his machine in the show early. After struggling most of the week in practice, they were finally able to find something that gave him the speed they had been seeking all week long. Howard doesn't have much experience, so it will be interesting to see how he handles starting on the outside of this row.
The always entertaining Tomas Sheckter will have the inside of row eight. He has shown he has some speed under that great looking machine, and it should be no surprise that he landed his starting spot on Pole Day. While it is hard to imagine Sheckter winning the race, two drivers have won from the 22nd starting position before. I also think he would be the first driver to somehow plank on the Borg Warner Trophy.
After last year's nightmare, Kanaan was thrilled to have his car in the show on Saturday and not have to go through the drama that is Bump Day. While he was slower than both of his KV Racing teammates, we all know that TK can pick his way through traffic. Tony will once again be a fan favorite here in Indy, and regardless of his starting position, I think he will be close enough to mix it up with the leaders in the end.
Never has a driver's hand been covered as much as Simona's hand has this week. After suffering second degree burns and superficial burns on the other, there was a lot of buzz surrounding her this weekend. We weren't sure if she would be able to get in the car to qualify, but she did. Not only did she do it, but she got it in the show on Saturday. Not having to go through the stress and the long hours of Bump Day probably helped her a great deal as far as the pain tolerance goes. Her story has been a big one here at the speedway, and everyone is glad she is okay after that frightening mid-air crash she had in practice earlier in the week.
Last year, Tracy failed to qualify for the race on Bump Day. He would not be denied two years in a row. He put on a spectacular performance with his run late in the day today. The rain was just starting to come down as he finished his run. He said he had rain drops on his helmet going into turn three on his last lap, but still posted the fastest qualifying speed of all drivers on Sunday, with an average of 224.939 mph.
Yes, finally we see a full-time Andretti Autosport driver. Danica almost didn't make the race, which would have sent the racing world into a frenzy. Just as she was getting ready to pull out to make her qualifying attempt, the rain showers came down. The rain lasted longer than we thought it would, and we weren't sure if the track would be dried before the 6 p.m. deadline of qualifications. Luckily for her it was, and she put in four great laps to get her car locked into the middle of row nine.
Briscoe had a shot at the pole position with his primary car. He was lightning quick in every practice session, and he was going to be my pick to win the race. Unfortunately after his crash in the morning practice session on Saturday, those possibilities went down the drain. His backup car was fairly good after some tweaking, and he was able to secure his spot in the race. One driver has managed to win the race from 27th position, but doing so in a backup car will be very difficult.
It wouldn't have felt like the Centennial Race without Andretti and Danica making the field. It looked as though Marco was going to be on the outside looking in when he was bumped from the field with less than a minute remaining by Alex Lloyd. Fortunately, he was able to go back out and make one last run, a run that was very impressive. The race has been won by the driver starting in 28th on two separate occasions (the first, of course, was by Ray Harroun in 1911). Judging by the performances by Andretti Autosport this month, the third one won't be happening this year.
Rookie Charlie Kimball will be a part of the youngest row in this year's field. Kimball has had his moments this year at the speedway, both up and down. He has the equipment to get the job done, so it will be interesting to see what he can do. Also, the 500 mile long race is going to be a grueling one, so monitoring his blood sugar during the race will be critical for the diabetic driver.
Perhaps one of the biggest disappointments of the field is Rahal's 30th starting position. He has been fast during every practice session, but for some reason, when they made their qualifying attempt on Saturday, they were considerably slower than they had ever been before. They had an issue on their next run that was preventing the fuel from getting to the engine, so they made an engine change. He made his run early, as he was the second car out on the track today, just barely beating the major storm that rolled through. He said he had rain drops on his visor on his third lap, but kept pushing. He will start on the outside of row 10, but he will be able to work with his teammate Kimball, who will start next to him.
Lloyd was able to get his car into the field on his third and final qualifying attempt today, with just a few minutes remaining before qualifications ended. The team worked extremely hard to trim the car out, and Alex was able to get it done out on the track when it mattered most. They definitely deserved to get a spot in the field.
Pippa Mann will make her IndyCar debut in the biggest race in the world next Sunday. She was able to sneak her way into the middle of the last row. It will be interesting to see how she deals with traffic out there at 230-plus mph. Nobody is going to expect her to win, but there can't be a better feeling than making your debut in the series in the greatest race in the world.
Ana is the fourth and final female driver in the field. She will be starting the race in last, but that can still put a smile on her face. Just making the race should make any driver smile, especially with a field as deep as this one. She beat out some great drivers and teams; the whole team should be very proud.
Ryan Hunter-Reay, Mike Conway, Raphael Matos, James Jakes, Sebastian Saavedra, Ho-Pin Tung and Scott Speed all failed to qualify for this year's Indianapolis 500.
It was an especially tough break for the two Andretti cars. RHR didn't have a chance to get back into the field, and Conway is currently sitting in fourth place in the points standings. Dragon Racing had a horrible weekend, and Matos and Jakes now have to look forward to the rest of the season. Saavedra had an incredible save on his second run; a lesser driver would have put it in the wall.
The field is now set for the 95th running of the Indianapolis 500. Who is going to taste the milk in victory lane? Who is going to have lady luck on their side, and who will get snake bitten? There are so many story lines waiting to unfold next Sunday.